Meet the new Schoolmaster, Same as the Old Schoolmaster

Last night, before I went to sleep, I got the distinct impression from the Lord that he had something important to reveal to me. Many times this happens while I am asleep, and the information is communicated to me either unconsciously, or in a dream. This time it was both.

Now, maybe you already know what I am about to say, or you think you know what I am about to say. If so, then why haven’t you shared it? Or, quite possibly, you only think you know what I am about to say and you think it’s a repetition of what has already been said that you didn’t understand in the first place. Or, maybe it’s a new take on something you know already.

In the dream, I was reading Facebook — page after page, idea after idea of peoples’ theories of what was wrong with the Mormon Church. There were lots of creative ways to presenting the problem, but no solution. I got the distinct impression that I was being smothered. I felt claustrophobic — closed in. I was coughing from breathing all the exhaust fumes. You know how you are trapped in an airplane cabin, and the same old air gets circulated and re-circulated, but no new air is coming in? That’s the way I felt.

The Problem

I remarked to somebody yesterday that the doctrine of the Church was indeed evolving — or perhaps devolving if you consider evolving as a step forward, and devolving as a step backward. Instead of moving from the Law of Moses forward toward the Law of Christ, the official doctrines of the church appeared to be moving backward from the Law of Christ back to the Law of Moses.

The freedoms and reforms of the Restoration that began with the teachings of Joseph Smith are systematically being rolled back, until there is little difference between the church claiming to be the “one true church”, and the rest of Christianity, whom the Mormons claim are apostate.

“Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.” Gal. 3:24-25

This was nearly 2,000 years ago. Christ had given our his teachings and had left the scene, but people back them, as they do now, still needed this concept explained to them.

Another woman wrote a poem and posted it on Facebook. In the poem, she lamented about how people went to the temple and gave false promises to obey covenants they knew they couldn’t keep, and how they beat themselves up inside when they caught themselves breaking these covenants. Several commentators stated that this was exactly how they felt.

It is strange to me how humans tend to look outside themselves for the source of their problems. And, since the source of their perceived problems is from the outside. they assume that the solution must also lie outside them, if they look for a solution at all.

Ain’t It Awful?

There is a social game called “Ain’t it Awful?”. It used to be played by a group of people all sitting around in a parlor exchanging gripes about the problems of the world. But the root meaning of the word “parlor” derives from the French “parler” (to speak) as in “Parley vous Francais.” In short, a parlor is a room for talking, but not a room for doing. In modern times, we don’t have parlors. We don’t talk to each other. We go to terribly mis-named family room, where we don’t spend time with the family. Unless you count mutual passive entertainment from the TV as spending time. But, we now chat on talk radio, and over the Internet. The medium is new, but the content is basically the same — sit and gripe, but accomplish nothing.

The Schoolmaster

This might seem a bit tedious, but in order to understand this, we need to revisit the original meanings of a few words.

Back to the “schoolmaster”. In Greek times, a schoolmaster (a “paidagogos” or a pedagogue, Literally: one who leads children.) was a tutor i.e. a guardian and guide of boys. Among the Greeks and the Romans the name was applied to trustworthy slaves who were charged with the duty of supervising the life and morals of boys belonging to the better class. The boys were not allowed so much as to step out of the house without them before arriving at the age of manhood.

The purpose of the schoolmaster was to educate those in his charge. The original purpose of education was to train via discipline (hence the word disciple), to impart knowledge, and something forgotten today: to evoke or bring out the best of what is in each person. The original goal of education wasn’t primarily to stuff information into a student in order to fit him or her for society, but it was hoped that training would help bring stuff out of the student, who would then use it to fully participate in society. Remember, we are talking about an elite class, and we are only talking about the males, Today, the goal is to educate both males and females in all classes of society, but unfortunately, we have concentrated more on the “put in” and less on the “bring out” aspects of education.

The Solution

Now, relating this to both education and experience as a church member, people mistake both as a passive experience.

Fill them up with enough new knowledge, or the same old knowledge, repeated over and over each week, but with no active participation and no evocation of that which lies within each of us, Gods in embryo though we are. The assumption is that this will eventually bring a person to Christ where they begin to truly follow Christ, take on the Name of Christ, take on the attributes of Christ, and fully act in the Name of Christ.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. The purpose of the Law isn’t to lead you step by step along the way, until the next step in the logical flow is to accept Christ and live by the Spirit.

Instead, the purpose of the Law is to lead you step by step along the way, until you see that the next step ahead of you is not a tiny step, but a giant leap of faith, where you have to jump into an entirely new paradigm, a new way of thinking about things. The old pedagogical ways have only prepared you to appreciate your new-found freedom, and they have taught you the practice of discipline so that you can maintain that freedom. And, they may have also given you insights so that you can, in turn, lead others to freedom. But, other than that, the Law of Moses has little to do with the Law of Christ.

Instead of telling people what to, the Spirit changes them. It changes their nature so that they have no longer a desire to do evil, but to do good continually. And, it’s no longer a struggle to keep temple covenants, or any covenants. Keeping true to ones covenants becomes part of their new nature.

Think about it another way in comparison to education. Some student plod along, get good grades, memorize the information, play the game, and graduate. These don’t usually turn out to be the leaders. Some of the most well-known leaders, like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, dropped out of school. They got enough information to see greater opportunities, and realize that they were ready to take that giant leap of faith. Being a college graduate and having a Master’s degree, I would not denigrate the value finishing college because it shows that a person can set a goal and see it through to completion. Gates and Jobs also found goals and saw them through to completion.

And that’s the point: In the long run, it doesn’t matter WHEN you see that point of crisis, but that you DO see it, and ACT upon it.

“Watch that last step. It’s a doozy.” These are not idle words.

Relating this specifically to the Church. This is one schoolmaster who is blindly doing his job. He thinks his job is to gain more and more students, more and more dependents. He doesn’t see any of his students graduating. He doesn’t know what a graduated student looks like. In fact, if he his students them taking that leap of faith for themselves, he will kick them out of his school.

Students: don’t see this an an expulsion. See it instead as a forced and undignified graduation. You have graduated. You have moved ahead. You are ready for the next level.

Here’s what a graduated student looks like: He looks like Christ.

If the schoolmasters were even slightly acquainted with the Being in whose image they were trying to remake us, when they saw progress in that direction, they would reward it, instead of condemning it.

I had a bishop who one stated that once people really know who Christ was, they wouldn’t have to be told what to do and when to do it, they themselves would move heaven and earth to do whatever had to be done.

I’m at the end of this article, and I realize that I haven’t spelled out a solution. Real leaders and potential leaders will do with I have suggested, and see through all this pedagogy.

What’s the solution? The solution is you.

Asking and Answering Questions

Excerpts from a talk given by Scott Ferguson, Dept. of Religion, BYU-Idaho

The quality of our instruction can be measured by the level of inquiry it produces in our students. One way to measure the quality of inquiry is to observe the depth of the questions that flow from our teaching and assigned work. Knowledge gained through our own inquiry is more likely to facilitate understanding than learning not preceded with similar effort. Understanding born of inquiry generally produces longer-term growth. Learning that results from inquiry is not necessarily measured by having access to the right answer.

What is the value of knowing the right answers to the wrong questions? Rather it is recognizing the correct question to ask at the right time.

Richard Paul notes: “Every intellectual field is born out of a cluster of questions to which answers are either needed or highly desirable. Furthermore, every field of study stays alive only to the extent that fresh questions are generated and taken seriously.”

Instructional models designed to inspire inquiry and questions are dependent on the exercise of students’ agency. Agency coupled with inquiry will always produce greater understanding. In inquiry-based instruction, a student’s inspired question becomes a summation of understanding as well as an invitation to expand understanding. I cannot expand that which I don’t understand in the first place.

All too often we want new knowledge without any effort on our part. This seems to be a universal characteristic of too many of our students. Perhaps we should share in the lesson Oliver Cowdery received from the Lord: “Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right … Now, if you had known this you could have translated” (Doctrine and Covenants 9:8-10).

Oftentimes our present knowledge is biased with self-deceit, and challenging it can be difficult. I cannot even ask an inspired question until I possess enough information or willingness to challenge this safe, inside boundary. A person’s bias might be as simple as: “This information isn’t that important.” Or it might be more complex: “If idea x is true, then I must be wrong about y.” This, I believe, is one of the major duties I have as an instructor of the scriptures—motivate students to ponder and search the scriptures sincerely enough to willingly make adjustments as a result of inquiry.

At the moment my inquiry produces new and exciting questions — inspired questions — I am inviting new knowledge; I am willingly expanding When inquiring, we must discern the right questions. Learning how to ask and answer inspired questions at truly inspired moments enhances our students’ ability to become inquirers.

To the prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord said, “As often as you have inquired, I have given you knowledge.” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:14). If we are not actively seeking all knowledge, we become careless and casual in the inquiry process. Over time we become too much like the individual Winston Churchill spoke of when he said: “Occasionally he stumbled over the truth, but hastily picked himself up and hurried on as if nothing had happened.”5 Too many of our students have become casual truth seekers. I am fearful that Latter-day Saint culture has become one of talking, talking, and still more talking, but little or no inquiry.

An Impostor to Inquiry

The Book of Mormon provides a wonderful key to recognizing instruction born of the spirit (see also 1 Corinthians 2:10-14). The ideal teacher/learner relationship was described in this manner: “The priest, not esteeming himself above his hearers, for the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner; and thus they were all equal” (Alma 1:26). That is, equal in the process of inquiry, each is able to expand or stretch the boundaries of his or her learning according to the several abilities and desires for learning.

Let me suggest a workable approach that I have found.

  • First, define what “true” means. What do you mean when you ask “is the church true?” or “is the Book of Mormon true”? You have to be more specific and have a definite question in mind. For example, is the story of the Book of Mormon factually true from a historical standpoint? Is the story of the translation of the Book of Mormon (Gold Plates, Urim & Thummim) true from a historical standpoint? Are the principles taught in the Book of Mormon really going to bring a person closer to God? Are there unique principles taught in the Book of Mormon that are not taught elsewhere, or same principles with a fresh perspective, or nothing new?
  • Second, you have to study out the question to the best of your ability in your own mind and form a conclusion, a proposition, or a hypothesis.
  • Third, you are now ready to take that proposition to the Lord: “Lord, I have asked this question, studied it out, and this is the best answer I can come up with. Is this answer correct?”
  • Fourth, listen for the answer. It may come immediately. It make take a couple of tries. Sometimes, the Lord answers you before you even form the words in your mind. I sometimes get this, and by this, I know that I am really on to something.
  • Fifth, the Spirit only bears witness to TRUTH. The Spirit testifies if something is true. The Spirit does not testify that something is false. If you bring a up a proposition that it false, you may receive a stupor of thought, which means you won’t be able to hold a clear thought in your mind, or you might even forget what you asked for. Or you might receive nothing. It is only if the proposition is true that you receive a confirmation.
  • Sixth, what kind of confirmation? The burning in the bosom, or something stronger. This is not an emotion. This is a higher tone or vibration than an emotion. It is more like intuition. Joseph Smith said that you will feel intelligence flow into you. This has happened to me on occasion. I start getting all sorts of new ideas I never thought of before. I get different insights into my original question. I sometimes get the feeling that I could ask God any question at that particular moment and receive an answer.
  • Seventh, God told Oliver Cowdery this same process, essentially. He said it was how the Spirit of Revelation works. He said this was the spirit by which Moses led the children of Israel. You may even feel the urge to write down your impressions, while you are feeling the spirit. If you do, then that’s the same process by which Joseph Smith, and other church leaders received revelation. Save what you receive. If it contains predictions, you may notice them being fulfilled in course of time.
  • Eight, commit yourself to follow whatever answer you receive. You may ask a second time for confirmation, but don’t keep second-guessing your answer, and don’t ignore it. If you make a practice of non-commitment, the Spirit is grieved and will withdraw from you.
  • Nine, if you receive a positive answer, probe a little to see whether the Spirit is confirming all of your answer, or just part of your answer. Sometimes, the Spirit may just tell you that you are getting warmer.
  • Ten, in some traditions, the Holy Ghost is considered to be a female. I find it is helpful to consider her a female, and to court her as you would a female. You are on a date with her and you want to bring your best self and treat her with respect. In one Hebrew tradition, God is saying that he has to leave, but he will leave his (female) companion (the Spirit) behind, to remain with us, as an assurance that he will return.